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Professional Program Features

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Albany Rockefeller
American SPA
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Professional Program Features
Elements that distinguish MPP/MPA degrees from non-professional Master's degrees

This page identifies features of an MPP, MPA or similarly named the program that are intended to prepare students for professional practice. Professional program features can be found in courses, in co-curricular activities, and in faculty research.

Training for doing − the promise of a professional degree

MPPs and MPAs are usually considered to be professional degrees. Holders of professional degrees such those in medicine, law, engineering, social work are expected to be capable not just of understanding, but of doing certain things. The theme of doing provides the tag lines for the Harvard Kennedy School website (, accessed 8 July 2014) "Ask what you can do to ..." This focus on doing distinguishes the MPP/MPA degree from Master's degrees in cognate disciplines such as economics, political science and international relations.

What is it that MPP/MPA graduates are expected to be able to do? The Harvard MPP is described as "a rigorous two-year program that prepares students both to understand complex problems and to craft concrete solutions." (, accessed 8 July 2014). The goal of the Toronto MPP is "to educate students ... to be effective practitioners and leaders in public policy" (, accessed 8 July 2014). The Berkeley Goldman School "prepares students for careers in public leadership" (, accessed 8 July 2014) and its MPP program "emphasizes practical and applied dimensions of policy-making and implementation, encouraging students to develop skills in: defining policy issues to make them more intelligible to officials in the public or private sector; providing a broader perspective for assessing policy alternatives; examining techniques for developing policy options and evaluating their social consequences; developing strategies for the successful implementation of public policies once they have been adopted" (, accessed 8 July 2014).

The nature of the occupations and careers for which MPP/MPA programs train students can be seen from lists of alumni described on School websites. See, for example, the recipients of the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Achievement Award at, where recipients range from a pro-democracy activist in Shandong Province to a Chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

Professional program features in courses

Professors of practice: Courses that are designed and taught by current or former practitioners.

Policy and management applications: Courses that apply theory to specific examples of public policy and management.

Case studies: Courses making extensive use of case studies within courses.

External projects: Courses with projects that produce reports and recommendations for a public or nonprofit institution on a current public policy or management issue.

Internships: Supervised internships that count for credit.

Professional program features in co-curricular activities

Professional development modules: Non-credit sessions that provide specific professional skills such as oral presentation, interviewing, report writing.

Career counselling services: Advisory services provided by the program to help students match their course of study to their career interests.

Co-curricular activities with a professional focus: Examples include case competitions, student-run journals, and student-run pro bono consulting services.

Professional program features in faculty research

The scholarly complement of "training for doing" can be thought of as "research for doing." In a highly professional program many of the teaching faculty conduct research in areas that are intended to "get things done" -- to produce public policy and management change.

For example, the Berkeley website states:

"Goldman School faculty represent the top researchers in their respective fields, which include economics, political science, law, social psychology and engineering. Their expertise ranges from education policy to racial profiling to clean energy. As teachers, they are dedicated to training tomorrow's policy leaders. As researchers, their work is shaping public policy today."

A professional program orientation in faculty research include is reflected in affiliated research centres and publications.

Practice-oriented research centres: Centres affiliated with the school that have a strong public policy and/or public management focus. For example, the Center for Environmental Public Policy (CEPP) at Berkeley's Goldman School:

"seeks to set the highest standards for effective environmental policy research. CEPP aims to bridge the gap between environmental knowledge and public policy through the policy research that it undertakes. It promotes and integrates multidisciplinary considerations into its policy research through its seminars, workshops, and conferences that engage both scholars and practitioners. CEPP’s research and programs seek to educate, direct and motivate those engaged with environmental public policy."
(at, accessed 9 July 2014).

The CEPP home page,, lists CEPP Faculty and Affiliates, Research and Publications, Projects and Initiatives, Seminar Series, and Conferences and Special Events.

Practice-oriented publications: Research products (books, journal articles, working papers, blogs, videos) that are aimed at changing public policy and management. These aims are often apparent in the title or abstract (e.g., "Public Problems, Private Answers: Reforming Industry Self-Governance Law for the 21st Century" at, accessed 9 July 2014). Such publications often include sections called Recommendations or Lessons Learned or Policy Implications. They are written in a form so that practitioners can easily find the answer to the question, "What does this research suggest we should do?" These features can be seen, for example, in most of the publications listed on the Research page for the Goldman School ( which has links to extensive collections of Featured Research, Working Paper Series and Selected Publications


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School of Public Policy and Governance